As many of us look in the rearview mirror saying good riddens to 2017, 2018 will have plenty of hurdles to prepare for, some may be welcomed changes while others are just more tumult carried on. The Thomas Fire will also play a substantial role in how we move forward but there may be a silver lining to this natural disaster. Area experts weighed in on what’s in store for the next year and into the future beyond.

Babies and policy

Loredana Carson

by Loredana Carson

Love, marriage and babies seem far removed from the world of public policy. They intersect, however, when we begin to consider the impact of related statistics. Consider the dip in the number of marriages, babies and immigrants that the U.S. is experiencing. 

The U.S. Census Bureau had predicted that the economic recovery would yield a rise in birthrate, but instead 2017 will show a 38-year low of 1.77 children per woman, which is below the so-called replacement rate of 2.01 children per woman. More and more young people are not partnered and are staying that way longer. Experts are searching and scrambling to invent other reasons for the birthrate decline, including young people having less sex, contraception working better and the inability of younger people to afford having children. A psychologist at San Diego State University actually brought up the interference of smart phones.

But the reasons do nothing to offset the potential problems that will show up in 20 or 30 years. Our major safety nets, including Social Security and Medicare, all are predicated on having enough younger workers to fund the benefits for older workers. With this drop in fertility rates, we can see an eventual issue with not enough working people being in the system to pay for the older workers who are going to retire.

The other piece is the immigration policy problem. While some see benefits in closing the borders and turning away immigrants, it has its drawbacks in that immigrant birth rates have historically been higher and have added to the population at a higher rate than domestic birth rates.

It’s not like any one family’s individual decision to have children or not or to have one child instead of three or four is going to make or break Social Security, but when you put a lot of families’ decisions together and watch a nation’s statistics change in a generation, then there is a lot for public policy analysts to ponder.

How can we make good policy when the numbers in question are not yet in focus and we don’t know if we are in a temporary slowdown, a reversal or a holding pattern? And how do you incentivize people to have babies at a time when sustainability experts say that we are better off with a smaller population?

European countries have been thinking about these issues a lot longer than the U.S. and have come up with incentive packages that have had some impact, but their total population is still predicted to be only 707 million in 2050 as compared to 738 million in 2015. Contrast that with the U.S., which in 2015 had 322 million people and is projected to have 389 million in 2050. Who will make up those additional births? And the numbers could well be inaccurate, given that the nature of predictive demographics requires mathematical models that can be thrown off when people don’t do what they have historically done, as is the case today.

What type of policies could incentivize people to have more children? In the past, governments in Europe have offered child care and more parental leave as well as better educational options for young children. These are policy decisions that can make good sense even without taking into account the birthrate. But it is not in the policy realm to encourage couples to get together or to commit to being parents.

The Silver Tsunami is now and will continue to be a driving force of our century. Who will take care of them and pay for their longer lives? Where will the workers paying taxes into the system that pays out Medicare and Social Security come from? These are critical issues that will loom large the next few years. Decisions made without consideration of the ramifications of the statistics involved will not yield good outcomes. Economic realities play a role in allowing young people to feel optimistic about starting families. Good child-friendly policies regarding parental leave, child care, education, college costs and loan forgiveness all go a long way toward fueling that optimism and helping the younger generation take the plunge into marriage and parenthood. And as everyone reading this will age up into the world of Medicare and Social Security, we all want someone to be there to keep working to fund our turn. 

Loredana Carson is a lecturer and academic adviser in the Master of Public Policy and Administration Program in the California Lutheran University School of Management.

Economy

Matthew Fineup and Dan Hamilton

by Matthew Fineup and Dan Hamilton

The two dominant economic stories to emerge in Ventura County this past year are recession and then wildfire. The interaction of these two is sure to dominate the region’s economic story in the year ahead. Recovery in one is likely to confound recovery in the other.

Fortunately, our communities will recover from the devastation of the Thomas Fire. The cities of Santa Paula, Ventura and Ojai already possessed uniquely strong community identities built on shared values. We have already witnessed that character play itself out in the overwhelming outpouring of comfort and support for those displaced by the fire. This underlying strength gives us hope. We will lift one another up and our communities will rebuild and recover.

The broader county’s economic outlook is not so bright. The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Commerce indicates that Ventura County’s economy shrank by nearly 3 percent in 2016, led by a loss of nearly $1 billion of output in nondurable manufacturing. Ventura County suffered a significant recession in 2016. Together, the years 2014-2016 represent the slowest period of growth of any three consecutive years since at least the 1990s — worse even than the Financial Crisis and the Great Recession. Local employers are communicating explicitly that a lack of building and the resulting housing affordability crisis are to blame for the downsizing and relocation of individual jobs and entire businesses.

All of this is to say that Ventura County was not well-situated to absorb a major natural disaster. The impacts of the Thomas Fire will be magnified by the economic weakness that existed prior to the fire. Rebuilding and recovery will be longer and more painful because the county did not exhibit robust economic growth in the years leading up to 2018.

The immediate economic impact of the fire is to destroy capital and to idle whole sectors of the economy, in particular retail and hospitality. The destruction of capital is both a short- and a longer-term problem for the region, as Ventura County’s total productive capacity has been reduced.

Because the Thomas Fire exacted so much damage to homes, the fire will have a secondary impact of further squeezing the existing housing stock and driving affordability even lower. We expect to see this across the county, not just within the individual cities that happen to fall along the fire perimeter. In this way, the fire will exacerbate the very problem that was driving the county’s economic decline. This makes economic recovery even less likely in the year ahead.

Prior to the Thomas Fire, our forecast for economic growth called for a decline of nearly 1 percent in 2017, a continuation of the recession that began in 2016, and growth of just 0.2 percent in 2018. That forecast is no longer operable. The county’s economy is now likely to perform below even these sobering predictions.

Unfortunately, this means that many residents of Ventura County are likely to endure economic hardship beyond even that which Mother Nature could impart. Rents will go up, perhaps dramatically. We shudder at the stories of renters being evicted so that rental rates can be increased and of bidding wars for available rental properties. The cost of living in the county will increase, and some may even find themselves priced out of their current communities. Many will be required to commute even farther distances between work and home. And some may simply decide to seek economic opportunity and recovery somewhere else.

Then again, a new opportunity could also arise from this collision between recession and natural disaster.

As we have seen residents open their doors to friends and neighbors impacted by the fire, we cannot help but wonder if those same residents might also open their doors to a new way of thinking about the role of housing and economic growth. Perhaps the awesome task of rebuilding entire neighborhoods, combined with the wake-up call provided by the county’s recession, will lead residents to also work to rebuild the economic foundation on which so many households’ livelihoods rest. Perhaps a new era of building will begin. We would welcome that kind of recovery. As hard as it would be to implement, given the economic headwinds that the county already faces, the strength of character that we see in our communities might be just enough to make it happen. Then the recession and fire will have proven to be a story of economic rebirth.

Matthew Fienup is the executive director of the California Lutheran University Center for Economic Research and Forecasting. Dan Hamilton is the center’s director of economics.

Health care

Carol Mack

by Carol Mack

Migration of health care from the hospital

Health care is moving from hospitals to the community. This movement is due both to consumers demanding that health care become more easily accessible, and to the prevalence of chronic, as opposed to acute, illnesses.

Where did you get your last flu shot? Did you make an appointment with your family doctor? Or did you just go to your local pharmacy? Consumers are more and more demanding the convenience of health services in their communities.

Also, our current hospital-based health care system was not designed to care for large numbers of patients with chronic illnesses, as is the case with our aging population. Indeed, four out of five older adults have at least one chronic condition. The goal for these patients is to keep them healthy and out of the hospital.

One sign of the trend away from hospitals is that fewer registered nurses are working in hospitals. Currently, about 54 percent of RNs are employed in the hospital setting, and that is down from 62 percent 10 years ago. Instead of the hospital, nurses work in clinics (including retail-based clinics), in long-term care, in community centers and in schools and correctional facilities.

Increasing consumer participation

Consumers are playing a greater role in their own health care. This trend is driven in part by the wealth of health information available on the Internet and mobile devices, and in part by government incentives encouraging consumer involvement in their own care.

Have you ever researched your symptoms on the Internet? Have you looked up your diagnosis to be sure that your doctor had it right? This use of information technology without the benefit of a health-care professional is known as consumer health informatics, and it is a growing field. There are now 165,000 health software applications available, of which two-thirds are directed at consumers. These include mobile apps, health information-oriented websites, sensor-based tracking systems and more. More and more consumers are using mobile health apps; in fact, the use of mobile apps and wearables doubled between 2014 and 2016 and continues to grow. A recent survey showed that millennials view their phones as not only lifelines but also tools to access health-care services.

Increasing use of technology

A third trend that is linked to the growing role of consumers and the movement of health care to the community is the increasing use of technology to deliver care. One example is telemedicine, the use of information technology to deliver health care at a distance, which has risen sharply in just the past few years. Currently, physicians consult with other physicians and conduct psychotherapy via video, analyze ICU patient data at a distance, and remotely monitor patients with chronic diseases at home.

In addition to the near-universal use of electronic medical records, we are seeing other technologies in the health-care arena. Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are being used to supplement or replace human providers. AI is especially helpful in visual pattern recognition, such as identifying tuberculosis on a chest X-ray, finding cancer on a mammogram or detecting brain bleeds on a CT scan. AIs can perform these tasks more quickly and accurately than their human counterparts.

Would you let a robot operate on you? Robotic assistance in surgery has become commonplace. Robotic arms provide greater precision and can operate in very tight spaces, thus requiring very small incisions. Of course, the human surgeon remains in control. Since recent data shows success rates with robotic surgery to be comparable to those with traditional surgery, we can expect this trend to continue, as well.

Carol Mack, R.N., Esq., is an associate professor of health sciences at CSU, Channel Islands

Politics

Herb Gooch

by Herb Gooch

2018 will begin with fire recovery and end with fiery campaigning. The months in between will be filled with coping with fallout from federal tax revisions and continued opposition to federal policies on immigration and sanctuaries, trade and technology, protection of the environment, illegality of marijuana, and healthcare. 

This will unfold in a thickening atmosphere of resistance to President Donald Trump, reinforced by strengthening currents of feminist outrage at the status quo overlapping with already powerful movements for minority equality and environmental justice. 

Two political dates will shape the landscape: primaries on June 5 and general elections on Nov. 6. Gov. Jerry Brown is termed out and there is no designated heir. The stakes of succession are high, leadership of both the Democratic Party and the state itself, since the latter is currently a fortress of the former.  

The high-profile campaign for governor is apt to be a single-party affair. California primaries are “jungle” primaries that result in the top two vote-getters advancing regardless of party. Unless Democrats irreparably splinter their votes in the primary, the odds favor two Democrats facing one another in November and a Democrat winning in any case. There are three reasons for this.

First, Democrats have an overwhelming registration advantage over Republicans. Not only did Hillary Clinton best Trump by almost 3 million votes, but Democrat registration then and now is vastly superior to Republican. Moreover, that advantage is still growing while Republican registration is declining to a footnote vying with independent.

Second, Democrats currently hold both federal Senate seats, all but 14 of the 53 House seats, all statewide executive offices, and near two-thirds majorities in both houses of the state legislature. In good economic times, incumbents fare well. There is literally a sea of Democratic incumbents running California, and the prosperous economy, though long in the tooth, is likely to continue for some time.

Third, on a variety of issues Californians poll as most salient to their lives, anger is palpable against Republican policies from A (for abortion) to W (for Wall). The slashing of federal deductions for state and local taxes, or SALT, heightened that anger in this highly-taxed state. This anger is shared by independents, which bodes especially ill for the Republican brand.

Political struggles will be expensive and hard-fought not only because there is no endorsed heir-apparent, but also because the Democratic Party has internal fissures between moderate and progressive wings and growing cleavages along ethnic, gender, class and generational lines. Competition may sharpen divisions and fuel promises that could well ring hollow regardless of who is elected. Republicans are launching an anti-gas-tax initiative that they hope will engender political revolt in the fall and restore their prospects going forward.

Adding to the intrastate political brawling will be exceptional spending on congressional races. In particular, most of the 14 Republican House seats have been targeted to flip by Democrats who consider those incumbents both vulnerable, given their brand, and essential to the national campaign to take back a congressional majority in the midterm elections. Steve Knight’s seat, R-Palmdale, with a toehold in Ventura County, is one of these seats and has already attracted huge national funding and attention.

Turning to local politics, where offices are nonpartisan and therefore campaigning is less riled by state and national politics, incumbency is a huge advantage. Expect few changes in office and the spotlight to be on the one open seat of retiring Supervisor Peter Foy. Policy issues will center on fire, pot, water and housing: coping with the financial and human costs of natural disaster; permitting and regulation of the billion-dollar startup cannabis industry; continuing impact of near-drought conditions; and finding solutions to rising costs and shortages of housing.

Anger at Trump and Republican policies will billow Democratic sails, even as the ship’s crew struggles to find a new captain. Deafening calls for resistance and change in the “old boys” culture of power and privilege, including quixotic drumbeats for Trump’s impeachment, will make for choppy political seas. Even without rain, it promises to be a stormy year.

Herbert Gooch is a professor in the Department of Political Science at California Lutheran University.

Religion

Colleen Windham-Hughes

by Colleen Windham-Hughes

More than 700 people attended the Thanksgiving service hosted by Conejo Valley Interfaith Association this year. Gathering together over prayer and pie, people heard the languages of different faiths and expressed the gratitude common to human experience. People are hungry for a sense of shared values and want opportunities to meet others who are different from them. In 2018, we will see more efforts to cooperate on common ground. These efforts will be messy and awkward and may be accompanied by a certain sense of impotence to affect national conversation, and yet local efforts will restore to people a sense of agency and trust.

2017 has seen new levels of fear, anger and resentment. Globally, responses to fears about China and North Korea have some warning about a new Cold War. Domestically, there are fears that forms of U.S. nationalism are beginning to look like a new religion. And yet, there is also new involvement in local affairs and new energies for working together. Unilateral action to advance one set of priorities will not work, as has been shown in the debate over the Conejo Valley Unified School District’s opt-out policy. Far from over and often fierce, this issue has evoked articulate argument from students and involvement of many in the community. With a wide-angle lens, only conflict can be seen; and yet close-up, in small conversations, common ground has been found. It’s messy and laborious to build common ground this way, and yet it’s the only way to build trust. Many more conversations are necessary before a satisfactory policy will be found.

Schools are places to learn across difference. My proudest moments include coaching students to listen to one another even as they disagree, and watching former students become teachers who must navigate various forms of difference in their classrooms.  Friends and family regularly tease me for investing so much time and energy in the two topics that no one knows how to talk about — politics and religion. Some go so far as to say that no one wants to talk about them. This is patently false. So much attention goes to politics and religion, and yet we do not trust each other to have conversation. We are on the lookout for indicators of which team the person is on, and we use cues to assign people to a team, unleashing full force against them if it’s the wrong one.

Raised in this environment, students must often learn to talk about religion, and sometimes politics, for the first time when they reach university. Having been taught consistently that such beliefs are private, they are scandalized by public (or quasi-public) discussion of them. And yet these religious and political views shape the persons we are in public. We bring our values and commitments to bear in our occupations, our conversations with neighbors and our convictions about local institutions.

Talking with each other across differences — toward the life we share instead of toward an argument to be won — is the key skill to develop in 2018. In October, California Lutheran University hosted No Joke Live, an event that featured the friendship among a rabbi, an imam and an evangelical Christian pastor. Friends for years in the midst of their work as religious leaders in Peoria, Illinois, they now appear in a film and in person to show what it’s like to live with three practices: 1) I’ll be unusually interested in others; 2) I’ll stay in the room with difference; and 3) I’ll stop comparing my best to your worst. We tried a round on our campus, hearing people with different views on immigration. Each person could speak for two minutes uninterrupted, which is enough time to tell a story. Minds may not have been changed in that short exercise, yet relationships became possibilities because of open ears. (See nojokeproject.com for more information about the practices or the story of friendship across difference.)

Let 2018 be the year you reach out to trust someone different from you. Let it be the year you refocus on people in your community and learn the values that matter to them. May you find courage and strength to talk about politics and religion with your neighbors, hearing their stories and trusting your commitment to shared life in this community.

Colleen Windham-Hughes is an associate professor of religion at California Lutheran University.

Population change

Luis A. Sánchez

by Luis A. Sánchez

Demography is the study of human populations and focuses on the three components of change that influence population growth: fertility, mortality and migration. These factors operate in concert with each other and not only inform our understanding of our current population but also provide us forecasts for future growth and change. Ventura County’s recent population trends mirror those taking place at the national level, namely that our county’s population is getting older and its overall population has become more racially and ethnically diverse. Based on the rates related to fertility, mortality and migration, these trends will continue to transform the county’s demographic portrait. Understanding these population dynamics will help us to consider the social and economic implications that accompany demographic shifts.

As baby boomers continue to enter retirement age in large numbers, the nation and county’s average age continue to increase. In 1990, the Ventura County’s median age was 31 years and by 2016 it had increased to nearly 38 years. This measure, however, does not fully capture increases in the elderly population (ages 65+) and how those relate to the rest of the population. The “age-dependency ratio” is a commonly used measure that indicates the size of a community’s elderly population relative to the working-age population (ages 15-64). In 1990, for every 100 Ventura County residents in the working-age population there were 14 elderly residents, and by 2016 that ratio increased to nearly 20 elderly persons (for every 100 residents ages 15-64.)

These trends in population aging illustrate the need to consider economic implications of increasing numbers of people entering into retirement or the availability and accessibility of health care and other resources necessary to ensure the well-being of Ventura County’s aging population. In terms of household composition, over 30 percent of the county’s elderly population lives in a multigenerational household (with adult children and/or grandchildren) but for elderly Latina/os, nearly 60 percent live in these types of households. Future implications of the county’s aging population should consider the social and economic impact on adults operating in this “sandwich generation” that provides support to their own children in addition to their aging parents.

Ventura County has become increasingly diverse and will continue to experience shifts in its racial and ethnic composition. In 1990 the county was nearly two-thirds non-Hispanic white (66 percent) and one-fourth (26 percent) Latino. By 2016, Ventura County’s white population had declined to 46 percent while Latinos have increased to just over 42%.  Due to racial-ethnic differences in mortality and fertility rates, Latinos will surpass whites as the county’s largest group in the next few years. Interestingly, the growth among Latinos is primarily due to births in the United States rather than immigration. Similar to national trends, immigration to Ventura County from Mexico has largely declined since the last economic recession.  Currently, two-thirds (66 percent) of Ventura County’s Latino population was born in the United States and that proportion will continue to grow in the upcoming years while the proportion of Latino immigrants will continue to decrease. These racial and ethnic changes suggest that an increasing proportion of the county’s labor force will continue to be Latinos (primarily born in the United States). Providing access to high-quality educational opportunities will be paramount to ensure a future workforce that is skilled and innovative.

“Demography is destiny” is a common statement pointing to historic population dynamics and their implications for future growth. For example, the birth of baby boomers in the last century set the stage for current trends in population aging.

Luis A. Sánchez is an assistant professor of Sociology, CSU, Channel Islands.